One thing was notable by its absence in Mourneview last Saturday; Glenavon goals. Ballinamallard have the worst clean sheet record in the league, and managing to shut-out the prolific Lurgan Blues was small triumph in itself.
New boss Harry McConkey admits tightening up the rearguard was an early focus for him as he settled in for the last seven games of the Premiership season.
“The priority for me coming in was to work on the defensive block first. I like to play football through the thirds and play out from the back.
“But on Saturday I said to the players let’s take the match in ten, 15 minute chunks to make sure we don’t concede. Conditions were difficult so we ended up going quite direct for a lot of the game, but we were further up the park and we were solid as a unit and that’s what I concentrated on in the preparation.”
McConkey doesn’t intend to entirely park the bus and he expects to quickly start develop the Mallards attacking play.
“At Tuesday training it was all about the defensive qualities of pressing, making the pitch small, denying space and then we finished the session with a focus on the attacking third because I felt we did the first bit very well against Glenavon.
“We battled and we were compact, but maybe we didn’t retain the ball very well and therefore we had very little threat. But the priority was to stop the flow of goals, so I was delighted with that. In a short period of time they took on a lot of information.”
Another area Ballinamallard badly need to improve is their second-half performance. The team haven’t won a second half all season. McConkey hopes stabilising the ship will help make Ballinamallard better able to impose themselves in the decisive stages of games.
“Results affect everything, the physical and mental. Arriving to see the boys on Thursday night I thought they looked mentally tired, and that affects the physical element.
“The boys put in such a shift that at training on Monday night I could see it had taken a lot out of them in the early part of the session. But the great thing is the result that we got has given them a mental lift and they quickly forgot about the physical tiredness.
“Linfield are going to put us under a lot of pressure and it’s going to be difficult in the second-half. We have got to be very careful about how we handle players at this point of the season because the games are coming thick and fast.”
While Ballinamallard’s fate will probably be decided by how they fare out in the post-split games, McConkey is by no means writing off the clash with Linfield as a forlorn hope.
“I spoke to the players about this and said, ‘What a game to look forward to.’ There’s always a special ambience with night-time football. If we can get a good crowd at the ground with the be biggest club in the country coming to Ferney Park, it’s a game I’d be dreaming of playing in if I was a player. It’s certainly not one I’d be frightened of. That’s the way we have to approach this. It’s a great opportunity to show our character and togetherness.”
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